Happy holidays to all! Be safe, merry, and joyous, and accept good intentions for the New Year and for seeing you all in 2008.Â
Jen and I will be at her parents’ home for a couple of days over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, then will be enjoying some restful days here in Minneapolis. We have a good few inches of snow on the ground, and it’s expected to snow tomorrow an inch or two. So no need for dreaming of a white Christmas in these parts.Â
OUT STEALING HORSES by Per Petterson is #33 on this week’s New York Times Bestsellers list. Amazing for such an introspective, literary work of translation. Funnily enough the book is just ahead of WAR AND PEACE. So take that, Tolstoy!
Any thoughts on the past year? Predictions for the new one? Anyone care to share some of their favorite books, albums, gallery exhibits, songs, movies, etc. of 2007?Â
Here’s to what’s ahead…Â
I have not seen too many movies. I noticed Daniel Day Lewis is back for an epic about an oil man directed by PT Anderson. I would like to see it. I have also heard good things about the Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Likely, I will view both on video, which I’m okay with. I’m not so much a movie person anymore because of my lifestyle.
The Andrew Bird cd has really grown on me. I think he is a brilliant lyricist, and I love how he introduces strings and whistling so seamlessly. I can’t remember the last time I have appreciated how songs have grown on me the way these did/have. I also enjoy how he can be sincere, skeptical, and funny all in the same song.
I also haven’t read too much lately, but I have a book by a Russian woman writer named Grushin on deck. I’m reading a young adult novel called The Real Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex who is an illustrator turned writer. It certainly isn’t “literature” with a capital “L”, but it is pretty amusing. Out Stealing Horses was obviously good, but needs no support from me. I did really appreciate all the drawing and storytelling in Shaun Tan’s, The Arrival, named one of the Best Illustrated Books of the Year by the NY Times. I’ve given it as a gift.
I also haven’t seen too many gallery shows, but all that will change when I go to New York in March. I wish I could see the Cai Gou Ciang retrospect at the Guggenheim, as I have followed his work for years, from back when he was not a household name in the art world. I also have enjoyed the Julie Merhetu book of drawings that Sara bought for me for Christmas. It is exciting to see a new energy in abstract painting and drawing.
All of my favorite songs would all be on the Devotchka, Andrew Bird, or M Ward albums, my votes for best stuff on the blog.
I’ll be in McPherson from the 27th until January 4th or 5th. Hoping to see the Peters, maybe the Beckers, and Jen Estes and Kevin Stenzel.
Oh, and I am the curator for a gallery show here at UWEC of four illustrators, Jason Holley, Guy Billout, Anita Kunz, and Daniel Bejar opening in January.
Thanks for these mentions, Ned–and for your good holiday card and letter. I’m sorry that Jen and I did not send out holiday cards this year: we just got too far behind, especially after my grandfather’s funeral earlier this month.
Interesting to see your enthusiasm for Andrew Bird. Jen and I saw him open up for Wilco in October, and I definitely think Bird is very interesting. It was cool to see him “build” the music through loops right on stage–yes, including lots of whistling. I think it is smart and fun music, and I would second Andrew Bird as one of the discoveries of the year, for me. There is a quality for me of “once you get it, you get it,” which is to say I wish the songs had a bit more variety from song to song. Still, that’s a quibble. If you can see him live, I recommend the experience.
Certainly Wilco’s SKY BLUE SKY is very high on my list of albums for the year. Also really like Lily Allen’s disc, which Jen got early this year (may have technically been 2006, not sure). We also have gotten (back) into The Hold Steady–a one-time Minneapolis band. Speaking of which, The Jayhawks are supposed to have a new one early in 2008: I always look forward to that, given the intriguing Minnesota-Kansas connection of the band and the band’s name. Taking a cue from J.E., we’ve been listening to a lot more “world music” lately, particularly some cool compilations that Jen brought back from India and Thailand–interesting fusions of traditional Asian songs and trance music. I’m realizing what a comically ridiculous term “world music” is. I guess I just mean non-Western music, which is also a ridiculous way of describing it. You all know what I am getting at.
For gallery shows, our friend JoAnn Verburg had a huge photography retrospective at the MOMA in New York, and it is soon coming here to The Walker. Lots of conceptual photography about time and portraiture and the natural world. She is married to a poet I have edited, named Jim Moore. They live in Saint Paul most of the year and in Italy the rest of the time. Jen and I are finally getting to the Frida Kahlo exhibit at The Walker this week: I’ve seen a lot of Kahlo, but I’m a fan, so am looking forward. But my favorite exhibit this year was likely the Kara Walker exhibit at The Walker. She recently did a cover for The New Yorker you may have seen. She does these amazing silhouettes, taking off a Victorian-era form, to get at race in America, from the Deep South to present day. Really startling stuff, in its seeming simplicity. She’s also done some amazing short films and artist’s books, and now teaches at Columbia.
As for movies, I still need to see a lot of things that I suspect will be among my favorites of the year. For heart-warming quality, I did enjoy Dan in Real Life, thanks to Peters’ recommendation. I liked American Gangster recently, a Ridley Scott film, with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe–but not great. I can’t bring myself to see Beowulf, since I love the epic poem so much as it is and would hate to lose some sense of its mystery held by the word. Still want to see: No Country for Old Men, Atonement (a novel I think is brilliant, by Ian McEwan), and others. There’s a new indie film out called Juno that was done by a Minneapolis woman actor/screen writer that I would like to see, which Jen highly recommends. I have to admit I really did enjoy Superbad and Knocked Up, the two Judd Apatow films–a lot about male camaraderie that is funny and somehow pushes something about gender assignment.
As for books, that’s so hard. Here are the books from this year I would mention and that come to mind: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, Horse Latitudes by Paul Muldoon, Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems by Carl Phillips, Time and Materials by Robert Hass, Messenger: New and Selected Poems by Ellen Bryant Voigt, Elegy by Mary Jo Bang, Refresh, Refresh by Benjamin Percy, The Water Cure by Percival Everett, Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, Gulf Music by Robert Pinsky. I’m sure there are many others. Looking at this list, I have to say I do tend toward male writers, which feels skewed, since I feel I read and am moved by far more poetry by women, for example. While I’m thinking of it, though it was published in the mid-1990s, I highly highly recommend any of you read Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, if you haven’t already: I returned to it this year, and it is hands down one of the strongest voices I have read in contemporary fiction. Maybe some of you saw the movie, which is interesting but doesn’t do the book justice. As you know, I spent a huge amount of time this year reading the entire Harry Potter series, based on many discussions here on this site. i am glad I did, just to be in on the phenomenon, but I have to say, I still feel finally disappointed in the series and what it ultimately was willing to do. It does make me laugh that I read more of J.K. Rowling’s work this year than I did, say, Shakespeare’s, or contemporary masters like Rushdie or Achebe or Zadie Smith or some such.
I’ve gone on long enough, answering my own questions, an indulgence that this site and the holidays allow, though I beg your pardon. I hope you all had good times this last week with family and friends. I hope the Gannons, Peters, and Beckers are able to gather together in Kansas. Here’s to thinking of that, and sadness at not being there.
I don’t think I need to defend Andrew Bird, but I will say, I disagree about his songs being sort of straight shots. I think they are more complex than most artists these days, particularly in terms of the lyrics, but also in terms of the music. I am of course basing this on the album, Armchair Apocrypha, not on seeing him live. Dark Matter was the first song that hit me as clever with its humor and then dark tone as well as the oddity of lyrics like (I’m quoting from memory here) “does the thought of bile that’s red and black, and tongues that taste you back fill you with a nauseous sort of elation…” or the songs Cataracts or Spare-Ohs. Just the fact that he does not resort, like every other band or artist, to writing songs about relationships that don’t offer any particular insight to being in one is appreciated by me. I also love the electric violin piece at the end of the album. But maybe like J.E. and Shotts on Beck and Wilco, we are just having different conversations.
Ned, I think that if you go back up and read the overwhelmingly positive things I have to say about Andrew Bird–both recorded and live–you will see that we are not having different conversations at all. There was nothing that I wrote that necessitated a defense. As I wrote above, I think Andrew Bird was one of the true discoveries of the year in music, for me.
I also want to say Okerville River is still one of the best albums of the year (if it was in fact 2007) as well. And maybe with Wilco, Radiohead’s In Rainbows may be my favorite of the year, and certainly important in terms of what it has done in terms of online distribution.
And I have now seen Charlie Wilson’s War and No Country for Old Men. Charlie Wilson’s War is smart and has a lot of interesting background to the current war in Afghanistan, but it wasn’t a GREAT film, I’d say. I like Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, but they are just so themselves that it’s hard to think of them actually ACTING. As opposed to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is excellent in the film, and steals every scene he is in.
No Country for Old Men is probably the best film I’ve seen this year–disturbing and smart and stylish and it continues to haunt me in its swerve away from narrative expectation. Very violent to the core, but one of the best film-going experiences of the year, to me.
I still hope to see Atonement soon, though I can’t imagine it as anything but McEwan’s terrific and wholely literary novel.
Glad to hear we’re on the same page about Andrew Bird, Jeff. Sorry if I seemed argumentative.
About the only film I am likely to see this winter was the one I went to with Eliot and my parents today, Water Horse. I thoroughly enjoyed it for a kid’s movie. It’s along the lines of some of my other innocent favorites like Whale Rider, The Secret of Roan Inish, and Into the West.
The summer blockbusters are lining up with the new Narnia that looks pretty good, the Indiana Jones, and the new Batman.
No worries, Ned. Thanks.
Good to hear The Water Horse movie is good. I like the other movies you mention here a great deal. And I am looking forward to the Indiana Jones, in particular, to see if they keep the series alive in a compelling and convincing way. I haven’t seen anything yet on the new Narnia movie, but will probably go to it–I assume it is Prince Caspian…